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Four of the Most Dangerous Fraudulent Scientific Theories That Must Be Confronted

Climate-induced earthquakes, bottomless pits of oil, pet dinosaurs and a miraculous energy source: For the sake of public policy, it's important to debunk the lies.

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Even under the worst of the current global-warming scenarios, scientists don’t expect that we’ll see anything like the extent of ice-sheet melting that happened 15 millennia ago. But the rate of melting in coming centuries could be as fast as it was after the last Ice Age, and that could be enough to trigger geological calamities.

Despite such dire portents, there is no evidence that climate change is responsible for any recent earthquakes or other geological events. Even the widely felt impression that a recent rash of earthquakes is part of a rapidly rising trend (as reinforced by publication of dramatic graphs) is unfounded. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) says the number of quakes of Richter magnitude 7 or higher has not increased at all. As for the higher numbers of smaller quakes being recorded, USGS points to “the tremendous increase in the number of seismograph stations in the world and the many improvements in global communications.”

Adding to the impression that seismic activity has increased are the realities of continuing population growth—which means that an earthquake, tragically, is much more likely to affect large numbers of people than previously—and of growth in communications technology, which allows news of a quake anywhere in the world to be disseminated almost instantly.

But why have there been several massive, destructive quakes just in the past year? According to USGS, the explanation involves no more than simple, boring chance: “While the average number of large earthquakes per year is fairly constant, earthquakes occur in clusters. This is predicted by various statistical models." As stars viewed from Earth are clustered in constellations, not evenly distributed, earthquakes can be grouped in time. A long quake-free stretch of time simply doesn’t make news.

So there's nothing to explain yet. No need to bring in climate change or other external forces, such as the far more creative one that cleric Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedigh recently invoked to explain frequent seismic disturbances in his country, Iran: "Many women who do not dress modestly ... lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which (consequently) increases earthquakes."

The bottom line is that the overall frequency of earthquakes and tsunamis has not increased, and that there is no evidence that human-caused climate disruption has led to geological disruption in our lifetimes—yet. Climate fluctuations have set off eruptions, tsunamis, and earthquakes in the past, and they probably will again.

2. Is the Earth continuously producing new oil—more than we could ever burn?

What if most of the oil deep below the Earth’s surface is not derived from biological material after all? What if the magma that seethes below the Earth’s crust is constantly creating new pools of petroleum? And what if we could pump from those pools, so that we'll never run out of oil?

That could be cheery news indeed, if only we lived in a world where the burning of fossil fuels did not threaten radical changes in the planet’s climate.

Ever since its original formulation more than a century ago in the Soviet Union, the "abiogenic oil" hypothesis has been capturing the collective imagination of energy optimists around the world. The roots of the hypothesis lie in a time when scientists had not yet discovered that petroleum was formed by compression of decayed biological material over millions of years. Once the development of new analytic techniques demonstrated oil’s biological origins, the abiogenic hypothesis was shelved by mainstream science.

But in the 1980s and '90s, Thomas Gold, a professor of astrophysics at Cornell University produced a long series of publications—culminating with a book, The Deep Hot Biosphere—in which he argued that methane (the main component of natural gas) and other small hydrocarbon molecules are continuously being generated deep in the Earth’s liquid mantle layer, and that they migrate through faults up into the crust; there, he wrote, they bond into the larger molecules that make up liquid petroleum.

 
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